Thread: Meat Machine
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Old 03-14-2006, 06:38 PM   #1
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Okay, so this is not the argument I thought I would get into, but off and on for the past few weeks I've found myself discussing the nature of the human brain with a computer scientist. Today, he made me listen to Beethoven and then proceeded to argue that no computer could ever come up with something so complicated. Not just that humans are better at it, or that modern computers don't have enough power or the right programming to compose a symphony, but that they fundamentally cannot. The brain is not a "meat machine", he insists.

My argument is that it is clearly possible for some physical device to create art, because clearly humans can, and that computers still follow the same laws of nature, just differently. He pretty much ignored this, and pointed back to Beethoven, emphasizing that it is so complicated, and look at how he put these parts in to have this effect and that it was such a bold movement and couldn't possibly be just a new step in cultural evolution. I told him that's not an argument at all, and it's no better than a creationist pointing at the human eye, but he guffawed and pointed back to Beethoven.

Now, it may well be that he is, in some sense, right, or that I'm misunderstanding him (I don't know enough about how neurons make connections or how they could be modeled in another medium, particularly silicon) but the thing that really struck me is that he's trying to make a philosophical claim that there is some human essence that is not contained in the brain: a Cartesian Soul, although he again refuses to address it. The man has a P.h.D in mathematics and studies biological systems modeling, so I'm simply baffled by this.

Does anyone have any resources or opinions on this? I'll probably see him again on Thursday. Rhinoq? Scathach? Judge?
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